SOME VOICES FROM THE KITCHEN GARDEN
By Mrs. Alfred Gatty
ONE—two—three—four—five; five neatly-raked kitchen-garden beds,
four of them side by side, with a pathway between; the fifth a
narrow slip, heading the others, and close to the gravel walk, as
it was for succession-crops of mustard and cress, which are often
wanted in a hurry for breakfast or tea.
Most people have stood by such beds in their own kitchen-gardens on
soft spring mornings and evenings, and looked for the coming up of
the seeds which either they or the gardener had sown.
Radishes in one, for instance, and of all three
sorts—white-turnip, red-turnip, and long-tailed.
Carrots in another; and this bed had been dug very deep
indeed—subsoil digging, as it were; two spades' depth, that the
roots might strike freely down.
Onions in another. Beets in the fourth; both the golden and red
varieties; while the narrow slip was half mustard and half cress.
Such was the plan here, at least, and here, for a time, all the
seeds lay sleeping, as it seemed. For, as the long smooth-raked
beds stretched out dark and bare under the stars, they betrayed no
symptoms of anything going on within.
Nevertheless, there was no sleeping in the case. The little
seed-grains were fulfilling the law of their being, each after its
kind; the grains, all but their inner germs, decaying; the germs
swelling and growing, till they rose out of their cradles, and made
their way, through their earthen cover lid, to the light of day.
They did not all come up quite together, of course, nor all quite
alike. But as to the time, the gardener had made his arrangements
so cleverly, that none was very far behind his neighbour. And as to
the difference of shape in the first young leaves, what could it
signify? It is true the young mustards were round and thick; the
cresses oval and pointed; the carrots mere green threads; the
onions sharp little blades; while the beets had an odd, stainy
look. But they all woke up to the same life and enjoyment, and were
all greeted with friendly welcome as they appeared, by the dew, and
light, and sunshine, and breezes, so necessary to them all.
"I find I get deeper and deeper into the soil every day," remarked
the Carrot. "I shall be I don't know how long, at last. I have been
going down regularly, quite straight, for weeks. Then I am tapering
off to a long point at the end, in the most beautiful proportions
possible. A Grub told me, the other day, this was perfection, and I
believe he was right."
(That mischievous vagabond Grub, you see!)
"I knew what it was to live near the surface in my young days," the
Carrot went on; "but never felt solid enjoyment till I struck
deeply down, where all is so rich and warm. This is really being
firmly established and satisfactory to one's-self, though still
progressing, I hope, for I don't see why there should be a limit
Pray tell me, neighbours," added he, good-naturedly enough, "how it
fares with all the rest of you. I should like to know that your
roots are as long, and slim, and orange coloured as mine; doing as
well, in fact, and sinking as far down. I wish us to be all perfect
alike. Perfection is the great thing to try for."
"When you are sure you are trying in the right way," sneered a
voice from the neighbouring radish-bed (the red and white turnip
variety were always satirical). "But if the long, slim,
orange-roots, striking deep into the earth, are your idea of
perfection, I advise you to begin life over again. Dear me! I wish
you had consulted us before. Why, we stopped going down long ago,
and have been spreading out sideways and all ways, into stout,
round solid balls ever since, close white flesh throughout, inside;
and not orange, but red without."
"White, he means," shouted another.
"Red, I call it," repeated the first. "But no matter; certainly not
And "Certainly not orange!" cried they all.
"So," continued the first speaker, "we are quite concerned to hear
you ramble on about growing longer and longer, and strongly advise
you to keep your own counsel, and not mention it to any one else.
We are friends, you know, and can be trusted; but you really must
leave off wasting your powers and energy in the dark inside of the
ground, out of everybody's sight and knowledge. Come to the
surface, and make the most of it, as we do, and then you'll be a
credit to your friends. Roll yourself up into a firm round ball as
fast as you can. You won't find it hard if you once begin. You have
"Let me put in a word first," interrupted one of the long-tailed
Radishes in the same bed; "for it is of no use to go out of one
extreme into another, which you are on the high road to do if you
are disposed to take Mr. Roundhead's advice; who, by the way, ought
to be ashamed of forcing his very peculiar views upon his
neighbours. Just look at us. We always strike moderately down, so
we know it's the right thing to do, and that solid round balls are
the most unnatural and useless things in the world. But, on the
other hand, my dear friend, we have learnt where to stop, and a
great secret it is, but one I fear you know nothing about at
present; so the sooner you make yourself acquainted with it the
better. There's a limit to everything but folly—even to striking
deep into the soil. And as to the soil being better so very far
down, nobody can believe it; for why should it be? The great art is
to make the most of what is at hand, as we do. Time enough to go
into the depths when you have used up what is so much easier got
at. The man who gathered some of us yesterday, called out, 'These
are just right.' So I leave you to judge whether some other people
we know of must not be wrong."
"You rather overwhelm me, I own," mused the Carrot; "though it's
remarkable you counsellors should not agree among yourselves. Is it
possible, however, that I have been making a great mistake all my
life? What lost time to look back upon! Yet a ball;—no, no, not a
ball! I don't think I could grow into a solid round ball were I to
try for ever!"
"Not having tried, how can you tell?" whispered the Turnip-Radish
persuasively. "But you never will, if you listen to our
old-fashioned friend next door, who has been halting between two
opinions all his life:—will neither make an honest fat lump of it,
as I do, nor plunge down and taper with you. But nothing can be
done without an effort: certainly no change."
"That is true," murmured the Carrot, rather sadly; "but I am too
old for further efforts myself. Mistake or no mistake, my fate is
fixed. I am too far down to get up again, that's certain; but some
of the young ones may try. Do you hear, dears? Some of you stop
short, if you can, and grow out sideways and all ways, into stout,
round, solid balls."
"Oh, nonsense about round balls!" cried the long-tailed Radish in
disgust; "what will the world come to, if this folly goes on!
Listen to me, youngsters, I beg. Go to a moderate depth, and be
content; and if you want something to do, throw out a few fibres
for amusement. You're firm enough without them, I know, but the
employment will pass away time."
"There are strange delusions abroad just now," remarked the Onions
to each other; "do you hear all this talk about shape and way of
growth? and everybody in the dark on the subject, though they seem
to be quite unconscious of the fact themselves. That fellow
chattered about solid balls, as if there was no such thing as
bulbs, growing layer upon layer, and coat over coat, at all. Of
course the very long orange gentleman, with his tapering root, is
the most wrong of the whole party; but I doubt if Mr. Roundhead is
much wiser when he speaks of close white flesh inside, and red (of
all ridiculous nonsense) without. Where are their flaky skins, I
should like to know? Who is ever to peel them, I wonder? Poor
things! I can't think how they got into such ways. How tough and
obstinate they must be! I wish we lived nearer. We would teach them
a little better than that, and show them what to do."
"I have lived near you long enough," grumbled a deep-red
Beet in the next bed; "and you have never taught me; neither shall
you, if I can help it. A pretty instructor you would be, who think
it ridiculous to be red! I suppose you can't grow red yourself, and
so abuse the colour out of spite. Now I flatter myself I am red
inside as well as out, so I suppose I am more ridiculous than your
friend who contrives to keep himself white within, according to his
own account; but I doubt the fact. There, there! it is a folly to
be angry; so I say no more, except this: get red as fast as you
can. You live in the same soil that I do, and ought to be able."
"Oh, don't call it red!" exclaimed a golden Beet, who was of a
gentle turn of mind; "it is but a pale tint after all, and surely
rather amber than red; and perhaps that was what the long-tailed
orange gentleman meant."
"Perhaps it was; for perhaps he calls red orange, as you call it
amber," answered the redder Beet; "anyhow he has rather more sense
than our neighbour here, with his layer upon layer, and coat over
coat, and flaky skin over all. Think of wasting time in such
fiddle-faddle proceedings! Grow a good honest fleshy substance, and
have done with it, and let people see you know what life is capable
of. I always look at results. It is something to get such a body as
I do out of the surrounding soil. That is living to some purpose, I
consider. Nobody makes more of their opportunities than I do, I
flatter myself, or has more to show for their pains; and a great
future must be in store."
"Do you hear them? oh! do you hear them?" whispered the Cress to
her neighbour the Mustard (there had been several crops, and this
was one of the last); "do you hear how they all talk together of
their growth, and their roots, and their bulbs, and size, and
colour, and shape? It makes me quite unhappy, for I am doing
nothing like that myself—nothing, nothing, though I live in the
same soil! What is to be done? What do you do? Do you grow
great white solid balls, or long, orange tapering roots, or thick
red flesh, or bulbs with layer upon layer, and coat over coat? Some
of them talked of just throwing out a few fibres as a mere
amusement to pass away time; and this is all I ever do for
business. There will never be a great future in store for me. Do
speak to me, but whisper what you say, for I shame to be heard or
"I grow only fibres, too," groaned the Mustard in reply; "but I
would spread every way and all ways if I could—downwards and
upwards, and sideways and all ways, like the rest. I wish I had
never been sown. Better never be sown and grown, than sown and
grown to such trifling purpose! We are wretched indeed. But there
must be injustice somewhere. The soil must give them what it
refuses to us."
"Or we are weak and helpless, and cannot take in what it offers,"
suggested the Cress. "Alas! that we should have been sown only to
be useless and unhappy!"
And they wept the evening through. But they alone were not unhappy.
The Carrot had become uneasy, and could follow his natural tastes
no longer in comfort, for thinking that he ought to be a solid
round ball, white inside, and red without. The Onion had sore
misgivings that the Beet might be right after all, and a good
honest mass of red flesh be more worth labouring for, than the pale
coat-within-coat growth in which he had indulged. It did seem a
waste of trouble, a fiddle-faddle plan of life, he feared. Perhaps
he had not gone down far enough in the soil. Some one talked of
growing fibres for amusement—he had certainly not come to that;
they were necessary to his support; he couldn't hold fast without
them. Other people were more independent than he was, then; perhaps
And yet the Beet himself was not quite easy; for talk as he would,
what he had called fiddle-faddle seemed ingenious when he thought
it over, and he would like to have persuaded himself that he grew
layer upon layer, too. But it wouldn't do.
Perhaps, in fact, the bold little Turnip-Radishes alone, from their
solid, substantial growth, were the only ones free from misgivings,
and believed that everybody ought to do as they did themselves.
What a disturbance there was, to be sure! And it got worse and
worse, and they called on the winds and fleeting clouds, the sun,
and moon, and stars above their heads, to stay their course awhile,
and declare who was right and who was wrong; who was using, who
abusing his gifts and powers; who was making most, who least, of
the life and opportunities they all enjoyed; whose system was the
one the rest must all strive to follow—the one only right.
But they called and asked in vain; till one evening, the clouds
which had been gathering over the garden for days began to come
down in rain, and sank swiftly into the ground, where it had been
needed for long. Whereupon there was a general cry, "Here comes a
messenger; now we shall hear!" as if they thought no one could have
any business in the world but to settle their disputes.
So out came the old inquiries again:—who was right—who was
wrong—who had got hold of the true secret? But the Cress made no
inquiry at all, only shook with fright under the rain; for, thought
she, the hour of my shame and degradation is come: poor useless
creature that I am, I shall never more hold up my head!
As to the Carrot, into whose well-dug bed the rain found easiest
entrance, and sank deepest, he held forth in most eloquent style
upon the whole affair; how it was started, and what he had said;
how much he had once hoped; how much he now feared.
Now, the Rain-drops did not care to answer in a hurry; but as they
came dropping gently down, they murmured, "Peace, peace, peace!"
all over the beds.
And truly they seemed to bring peace with them as they fell, so
that a calm sank all around, and then the murmur proceeded:—"Poor
little atoms in a boundless kingdom—each one of you bearing a part
towards its fulness of perfection, each one of you endowed with
gifts and powers especially your own, each one of you good after
its kind—how came these cruel misgivings and heart-burnings among
you? Are the tops of the mountains wrong because they cannot grow
corn like the valleys? Are the valleys wrong because they cannot
soar into the skies? Does the brook flow in vain because it cannot
spread out like the sea? Is the sea only right because its waters
only are salt? Each good after its kind, each bearing a part in the
full perfection of the kingdom which is boundless, the plan which
is harmony—peace, peace, peace upon all!"
Nor was it broken again. Only once or twice, that year, when the
Carrots were gathered, there came up the strangest growths—thick
distorted lumps, that had never struck properly down.
The gardener wondered, and was vexed, for he prided himself on the
digging of the carrot-bed. "Anything that had had any sense might
have gone down into it, he was sure," he said. And he was not far
wrong; but you see the Carrot had had no sense when he began to
speculate, and tried to be something he was not intended to be.
Yet the poor clumsy thing was not quite useless after all. For,
just as the gardener was about to fling it angrily away, he
recollected that the cook might use it for soup, though it could
not be served up at table—such a shape as it was!…
And this was exactly what she did.